Musings on Photography

Print Size, continued

Posted in digital printing by Paul Butzi on March 7, 2008

Well, after pondering yesterday for a bit on print size, I concluded that before I proceed with turning over my practice and adjusting the web site and so on just to standardize print sizes, it might be a good idea for me to actually make prints in the various sizes, put’em up on the wall, and gaze at them. You never know what sort of reaction theory will have when confronted with reality.

So I cranked out four prints, sized 10″x15, 12″x18″, 14″x21″, and 20″x30″, and I cleared off the work wall in my work room, and I put up the prints side by side, using my highly sophisticated temporary hanging technique (aka blu-tack).

So now, with the prints on the wall, I’ve made a cup of tea, and I’ve stood in front of the prints and pondered for a few minutes several times. This is a most interesting experiment, and given that I’ve got quite a lot of experience with prints of differing sizes and large prints, et al, I have to say that my first reaction each time I step up and look at the array of prints is that print size makes a big difference.

That is, there’s a big subjective difference to standing in front of the 20×30 compared to even the 14×21. I expected that, though, because the relative spacing between those two prints is larger than for the other ‘adjacent’ sizes. But there’s also a big difference between the 12×18 and the 14×21 – much bigger than I expected. And there’s a big difference between the 10×15 and the 12×18, too, and I didn’t expect that at all, to be perfectly honest.

Curiouser and curiouser. Clearly I have some thinking to do. And, if nothing else, I’m going to have to order up a pile of 20×24 frames, matboard, foamcore, and glazing. I had sort of hoped, in a vaguely optimistic way, that this experiment would demonstrate that I could settle on just three sizes, not four. But I’m finding I like the 12×18 print size (which would frame out to 20×24). I like it a lot.

11 Responses

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  1. Gordon McGregor said, on March 7, 2008 at 10:38 am

    One minor observation, looking at the 4 pictures in the photo above, I like the 12×18 visually the most too, but that’s because it has the biggest white border and looks more finished/ matted as a result.

  2. Paul Butzi said, on March 7, 2008 at 10:42 am

    Gordon, good point. I suppose I will now have to either matt them or else make prints with the appropriately sized border, just to check that effect.

  3. Joe Reifer said, on March 7, 2008 at 11:37 am

    I went through a similar experiment with 8×12, 10×15, 12×18, 16×24, and 20×30 last year. I decided to simplify my offerings, and only offer 12×18 and 20×30 as standard sizes. Having only 2 standard sizes, and the resulting 2 types sizes of mats and frames has proved to be an extremely good decision.



  4. Oren Grad said, on March 7, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    Paul, I hope you’ll consider retaining at least one small print size. By small, I mean something that will fit on a letter-sized sheet.

  5. Paul Butzi said, on March 7, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    Oren, I hadn’t really considered keeping a smaller print size.

    My views on that are a) I don’t like the way most of my images look as small prints, compared to the same image printed larger, and b) most of the time when people ask about pricing on ‘smaller’ prints, what they’re really asking about are ‘cheaper’ prints, and I’ve already decided to both cut print prices to the bone and dramatically level print price as a function of size.

    Both those steps would seem to favor people wanting larger prints, not smaller ones.

    But I’m open to suggestions about why I’m wrong about all this.

  6. Oren Grad said, on March 7, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    Paul, in light of your explanation, I don’t think you’re wrong. I had asked for esthetic reasons, not cost reasons. But if you don’t like the way small prints convey your work, you’re entirely justified in choosing not to sell that way.

  7. Billie said, on March 8, 2008 at 8:08 am

    I’m wondering if subject matter could make a difference in the preferred print size. You are looking at shallow depth of field images but what about some of your work with more depth of field.

  8. Hugh Alison said, on March 8, 2008 at 11:56 am

    I standardised on 16×20 inch paper in the dark room – the enlargers were set up and locked at 12×18 (35mm) and 15×19 (6×7 and 5×4). Made life very simple (along with one film, one developer, etc.)

    I’m a big fan of 12×18 prints on Hahnemuhle 308gsm 13×19 photo rag now – they are about the biggest you can comfortably hold in your hands to look at, and I like the texture of the paper.

    Probably heresy, but for my own display purposes I also like 12×18 inches printed on A2 paper (about 16×24) – fits straight into a standard A2 frame – I don’t use a window mount or a backing board – if there’s any staining in a few years it’ll take me ten minutes to reprint the picture.

  9. Jon Fitch said, on March 8, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    Your musings are mirroring mine, but I’m really glad I didn’t buy a 44″ printer before settling on a 17″ printer.

    I find that most people on a reasonable income have homes that accommodate 16″x20″ frames on a wall. If that is your market, then one should assume that is your “sweet spot.”

    When I present a famed photograph of 16″x24″ it wows everyone, but you really need a whole wall for that photo. How many people have a whole 12′ long wall with nothing above waist level against it?

    Part of pricing to sell to your market is to have the print sizes they have room for.

    I rarely print larger than 12″ wide for paying customers.

  10. […] I had pretty much decided that I wasn’t going to do small prints any more. And then I read Oren’s comments, and of course, as Oren’s comments always do, the comments set me thinking about the merits […]

  11. LifeSpy said, on March 10, 2008 at 7:14 am

    Hi Paul,
    I am a bit old school and think prints should be BIG, that’s the way it was back in the days of film. However, an art lecture has changed my way of thinking in that small is intimate!
    People have to walk up to the small print to look and see what it is, only one person can see it at a time, its a private moment to absorb the information in the print; I am talking smaller than 10″ x 8″ here.
    Last year I displayed some prints (30″ X 20″ and was puzzled as to why no one went to look at them, they didn’t need too, they could see them from the other side of the gallery. So now I think my biggest print size will be 13″ x 16″ (A3)and apparently new build houses have less wall space for art!

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